Part 2, Stages 2&3, Project 2, Exercise 2 – Wrapping with materials and threads

28 November 2016


Project 2, exercise 2 – Wrapping with materials and threads

The exercise stipulated that I use the work of Christo and Jean-Claude as a starting point. I was particular inspired by Christo’s portrait of Jean Claude (Christo, 1963), a painted portrait wrapped in polythene and string. By using the tightness of the string to form creases in the polythene surface, Christo achieved a sense of distance and mystery between viewer and subject. A similar technique was used in Christo’s “Wrapped Magazine” (1963) (Koddenberg, 2009:82), in which a recognisable image of the face of Marilyn Munroe appears captured and restrained in semi-opaque red polythene and rope.

Thinking about alternative materials, I remembered how Lucozade bottles (Mitchell, n.d.) used to be wrapped in orange-yellow cellophane film. I bought a selection of different colours to use in sampling.

 

SAMPLE 1: Childs’ mug wrapped in red cellophane and tapestry warp thread

I liked the idea of wrapping the Rupert Bear mug because it had a scene from the cartoon pictured on the front. I hoped that by using cellophane, I might partially obscure the image, and in doing so, say something about the wrapping in relation to the object.

The photo above shows the mug with the coloured cellophane. I had blue, green, purple, orange clear or red to choose from. I didn’t have a fixed idea initially about which to use, but when I held them up against the mug I felt that blue, green and purple all had sinister overtones. Blue in particular, was very cold, and didn’t really fit with the “fun”, “playtime” theme of the image. I recalled the emotive use of a blue filter applied to the photograph accompanying the Telegraph’s “Judges Verses the People” headline of 3 November (Tinsdale, 2016). Having ruled out These colours and clear, that left orange and red. Orange had strong associations with Lucozade, so I decided on red. I used tapestry warp thread to tie the cellophane, chosen because of it’s contrast, smoothness, and resemblance to parcel string. The result is shown below:

I used a book on knots to help guide me with the parcel-tie technique (Budworth, 2005: 147). Rather than cutting the thread between each of the tie points, I used the method for binding a sewn buttonhole loop (Ysolda, n.d.) to take the thread along the next point that I wanted to work from.

I was slightly disappointed with the properties of the cellophane, because it turned out to be a very flat wrapping material which strongly conformed to the shape of the mug. However, I did manage to position the pleats so that the areas of double thickness left some of the image was visible, and I managed to achieve some tightness and pulling around the handle, suggesting tension. 

I don’t feel that the colour works particularly well – red makes me think of danger, perhaps a poison bottle. Brown would probably have worked better.

The bulk of cellophane which is tied at the top of the sample reminds me of gift-wrapping and is at odds with the “parcelling up” and restraint of the string tie. It also makes the sample appear unbalanced. There is too much discontinuity in this sample for my liking, and no strong narrative.

 

SAMPLE 2: Childs’ mug wrapped in waxed paper and cotton string

A chose to wrap a “Thomas the Tank Engine” mug for my next sample (see below)

It had a bold, strong image which I hoped would show through the wrapping. Ideally I wanted a brown wrapping and considered baking parchment, however when I held it against the mug I felt that it would obliterate the image, so I decided on waxed paper instead as it was more transparent. The waxed paper was easy to mould around the cup and I was able to tuck the loose edges underneath, thus hiding the excess material. 

I chose commercially manufactured red paper string, this time I used less of the sewn buttonhole loop method used in sample 1, which I felt was rather too bulky.  I prefer this approach which makes the tying seem more uniform across the object.

This view from the side shows that I succeeded in retaining the visibility of the image. I am pleased with the distribution of string and knots, which is attractive and engaging. The choice of red string brings interest to what would otherwise be a rather bland sample, and it picks up the red colour in the imagery printed on the cup.

The photo below is the view from above, looking inside the cup. Unfortunately, I had an accident when tying and pushed a hole through the paper with my thumb.

I like the off-centre positioning of the knots and how they divide the circle shape. The knots are also decorative in themselves and add texture to the piece. 

The only aspect of this sample which does not work for me is the stark white colour of the waxed paper. If it were off-white then I would find it more visually appealing.

I’m not sure how I feel emotionally about this piece. When selecting the childrens’ mugs for wrapping, I was imagining that the outcome might make me think of protecting precious childhood memories, but somehow it feels more sinister. It’s as if childhood is being hidden or denied; being seen as somehow undesirable.

 

SAMPLE 3: A book wrapped in cellophane and string

This sample was inspired by Christo’s wrapped portrait of Jean-Claude (Christo, 1963). I chose a book of Bob Dylan songs. The front of the book featured a title and a photograph portrait, the back cover a list of songs included in the book. I first found a thick, clear plastic carrier bag, which I covered in orange cellophane to make a double-layer wrapping. I hoped that this would make my wrapping more bulky to enable me to achieve ripples and tucks.

There were several different grades of string which I could have used, ranging from rough jute garden twine to thick piping cord which resembled rope:

 Strings.jpg

I considered the thickness of the thread in relation to the size of the sample and how it might crumple the cellophane and plastic. I chose thick cotton string (back row left).

I purposely left a bulk of material at the bottom of the book, so that when folded and tied it, I would get double layers and interesting creases without completely obscuring the photograph of Dylan’s face (see below):

I am pleased with the behaviour of the wrapping material, and the degree of obscurity of the image is exactly as I had hoped. On this occasion I don’t mind the reflection of light from the cellophane.

Compositionally, I felt that I ought to avoid placing string over the face, however this has resulted in divisions which are rather more regular than I would have liked. I much prefer the composition of string on back cover, because of the triangular elements (see below):

So how do I feel about this sample? 

I am glad that this sample does not resemble a wrapped gift; the utilitarian string puts pay to that. As Dylan’s songs are famous for chronicling social unrest and civil rights, I was hoping to make the generic suggestion of a suppressed political voice, just visible but struggling to make itself heard (or seen in my analogy). By using the coloured cellophane I am suggesting that in how messages are viewed (be they songs, newspaper articles, speeches) there is an element of what we choose to see and how close we care to look.

Whilst this is a successful sample, I feel that it is very much a “study after Christo”, and I’m not sure how I might take it forward and make it my own.

 

SAMPLE 4: Coffee tin wrapped in artists’ canvass and thick piping cord

This sample was inspired by the wrapped tin cans of Christo. “Wrapped can” (1958) (Koddenberg, 2009:34), is an example, but there are many similar pieces using the same techniques. Before starting this series, Christo had worked to develop textured surfaces by creasing fabric or paper and applying sand and lacquer to achieve a characteristic surface finish. I find Christo’s abstract surfaces fascinating in their own right, but by extending the idea to wrapped cans, he was able to relate the surface to the object he was wrapping. Where and how the creases fall, and the tightness of the rope give the viewer information about both the object underneath and the wrapping material. 

I particularly like the impression of “stiffness” of the material Christo wrapped his tin cans with, and I wanted to create a sample with similar characteristics. I started with an empty coffee tin, and some artists’ canvas, which I had partially painted with black acrylic paint (see below).

The canvass had been intended for another project, but I had decided not to use it. I liked the way it was divided into painted and unpainted areas and the qualities of the weave of the fabric. This was particularly visible at the edges of the painted areas where the paint was sparse and only covered the top threads, making a diffuse edge (see below):

I wanted to use a rope-like thread, so I chose thick piping cord. I used a similar approach to tying as for samples 1-3. The result is shown below:

Overall there are some very good attributes to this sample. The knotting is well defined and forms a visually appealing feature. I am pleased with the 3-D composition (i.e. the way the colours divide the piece and the way the rope divides the piece). There are thick folds which provide a visual description of the physical properties of the canvas. 

I can’t help but feel that the surface of the fabric would be enhanced by acrylic wax or varnish to “set” the creases (making them look more as if they had been carved from a solid rather than fashioned from a fabric). Christo used lacquer, which helped to shrink the fabric onto the object underneath and made the tying thread (rope) appear to be embedded within the fabric. In my sample the rope sits above the fabric and I like that effect. However, I feel that the fabric would benefit from a further surface treatment to add interest.

 

The Japanese aesthetic

This next series of samples were inspired by Japanese aesthetic, in particular as a result of studying the book “How to wrap five eggs” (Oka, 2008). This was an enlightening text. I hadn’t realised that traditional Japanese packaging was considered an art form and a profession. It was interesting to read of it being the result of generations of use and experimentation to solve storage and transport problems. At the same time it is a handicraft applied to items whether they be large or small, valuable or of no monetary worth; the notion being that everything can, and should be made beautiful. Natural materials are favoured because they reflect the Japanese respect for harmony with nature. The Japanese psychology views packaging as a form ritual purification, so there are strong cultural associations with the activity (Oka, 2008:7-11).

I am strongly attracted to the use of natural materials and the symmetry of Japanese packaging. I thought back to my research and the “Bundles” series by Diane Cooper (Cooper, n.d.) with the contemporary interpretation she has placed on the Japanese aesthetic. I was really keen to explore these aspects for myself and I hope I am not deviating too far from the brief by working my own examples.

 

SAMPLE 5: Origami box and thread packaging

I first made the origami box from kimono-print origami paper. A common theme in Japanese traditional packaging seemed to be to make the packaging fit tightly around the items, so that seem a perfect fit; almost at one with the container. Once such example is sweet boxes (Oka, 2008:103).

I found that two toilet rolls were exactly the right width to fit my container. To disguise them and to infer a feeling of preciousness, I painted them with gold. They are secured in position with a gold parcel thread.

In contrast to my other samples, I wanted this one to be decorative. I purposely suggested valuable contents and allowed them to be visible by securing it without a lid. Nonetheless, the box contents are securely packed and cannot fall out, even if it is placed on it’s side or upside down.

I purposely tied the string tightly so that the edges of the box were pulled in. This further suggests security, cosiness and preciousness. I also purposely left the knots uppermost because I feel that they add to the feel of decoration and decadence.

 

SAMPLE 6: Marbles wrapped in leaves

This sample is inspired by Japanese wrapped confections or “chimaki”, which are commonly wrapped in leaves and tied with cords of sedge or rush (Oko, 2008:33). For my interpretation, I decided to use red-purple raffia cord. Despite being late November, I was lucky enough to find some crocosmia leaves in the garden, which were suitable to use.

In my choice of objects to wrap I wanted to suggest the idea or “morsels” or “tasty treats”. I chose medium sized marbles because they were the right size.

I started by wrapping a single marble (see below)

I then went on to wrap two more and join them with a plait, and a loop for hanging/storage (again in keeping with Japanese traditional packaging)

I wanted to pick up on the idea of utility and practicality (assuming they were food items, one could be unpackaged at a time leaving the other two sealed and protected).

I am pleased that I managed to make neat parcels. There is also beauty in the colour contrasts between the raffia and leaves.

 

SAMPLE 7: Lid of an egg box sandwiched between wooden sheets and tied with crochet cotton

This sample builds on the Japanese packaging technique in which a food item (such as a rice cake) is simply placed between two leaves as packaging (Oko, 2008:28). The choice of an egg box lid was somewhat arbitrary (I was looking for a lightweight object with a “thickness”). I used balsa wood sheets, because of the wood grain and the reference to the Japanese use of natural materials. I only had very thin (0.8mm) sheet and balsa wood is extremely soft and easily marked. Ideally, a harder wood or thicker sheet would have been preferable, as it provides better protection.

I noticed that several examples of Japanese packaging use very fine delicate thread, so I chose fine crochet cotton in a natural beige. I tied the package in the compositionally pleasing division of thirds, then down the centre which divides the surfaces into six roughly equal sections and which suggests that there are 6 items contained between.

The sample is shown below:

 

I am pleased with the way that this sample reflects the Japanese aesthetic. It’s plainness makes it seem calming and suggests that contains a delicate object. The threads are tantalisingly fragile, yet they keep the three elements together. As well as being a very practical way of protecting the upper and lower surfaces of an object there are strong emotional associations with this sample.

 

SAMPLE 8: Tied sticks

I wanted to extend the idea of traditional Japanese packaging to a group of poles or sticks. I started by harvesting some attractive dogwood and bamboo stems from the garden. For my thread, I considered both commercially produced paper string and raffia string (see below).

I have a good range of colours, and many provided a strong contrast with the bright red and green dogwood and bamboo stems. However, the synthetic colours seemed too harsh, so I narrowed my choice down to black paper string and pale brown raffia.

I decided to make a pair of samples; the red dogwood paired with the raffia and the bamboo with the soft charcoal black paper string.

I had to learn some knotting skills for this sample, so I started by testing out the knots on a wooden dowel.

Working from right to left, I first secured the thread using a rolling hitch (Budworth, 2005:49). I then worked along the dowel in half-hitches (Budworth, 2005:75) before tying off with a simple overhand knot.

Having mastered the techniques, I then worked my samples (see below).

I am very pleased with the results of this wrapping. The samples are visually very appealing (especially when viewed together as a pair). I like the way the string travels along the stems and the way it is purposefully secured at intervals. Although there are gaps visible between the stems, the join is very stable and secure, because I was able to position the half-hitches just before leaf bud joints. This also made the knotting feel very much in harmony with the object being wrapped.

 

References:

Budworth, G. (2005) The complete book of knots. London. Bounty Books.

Christo (1963) Wrapped portrait of Jeanne-Claude. [Oil n canvas portrait by Christo Javacheff wrapped with polythene and rope by Christo and mounted on a black wood board] At: http://christojeanneclaude.net/projects/wrapped-objects-statues-and-women (Accessed 11 November 2016)

Cooper, D. (n.d.) Bundles Varie’ 2. [canvas, felt, silk, cord]. At: http://www.dianecooper.org/bundles/BundleBV2Pop.html (Accessed 10 November 2016)

Koddenberg, M. (2009) Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Early works 1958-64. Bonn. Kettler Verlag.

Mitchell, S. (n.d.) Vintage Lucozade bottle. [Pinterest pin, n.d.] Available at: http://pin.it/N240IVo (Accessed 28 November 2016)

Oka, H. (2008) How to wrap five more eggs: Traditional Japanese packaging. London. Weatherhill.

Tinsdale, J. (2016) “Do they look evil enough?”. At: https://mobile.twitter.com/JackTindale/status/7943011177652101 (Accessed 1 December 2016)

Ysolda (n.d.) Blog: Sewn buttonhole loop. At: http://blog.ysolda.com/support/tutorials/sewn-button-loops/ (Accessed 29 November 2016)

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